Super Mario Odyssey is one of the most joyous, fun, and inventive entries into a franchise full of joyous, fun, and inventive games. It plays into expectations as much as it subverts them, all before ripping up everything you thought a Mario game could be and becoming something new altogether. It skews delightfully towards the same philosophical motif of Breath of the Wild: wonder.
That comes largely from the crux of the game. Mario is once again at odds with Bowser, except this time it’s because Bowser is kidnapping Peach to marry her with the help of a maniacal crew of wedding planners called the Broodals. Mario, on his heels after a fresh loss to the Koopa King, ends up in a new kingdom called Bonneton and makes a friend in local resident Cappy. Together, they set off to stop Bowser and rescue Peach and Cappy’s sister Tiara.
Cappy, though, is unique. Any (reasonably sentient) creature without a hat can be taken over by Cappy and, by extension, Mario. It’s best not to dwell on the implications of this—especially when you end up in Manhattan simulacrum New Donk City full of what appear to be humans—and the ego death all these beings suffer. It is, however, worth dwelling on what a fresh twist this offers on the Mario series.
It feels a bit like the logical conclusion of a company that publishes Kirby games and features an Italian non-plumber known for wearing animal suits that give him special powers. In one moment, you’ll be taking over a Goomba, and then in another, you’ll be inhabiting an actual T. Rex, all of which gain a jaunty hat and a signature mustache. And each creature will give you certain abilities.
This means that at a whim, the game can challenge you to figure out how to attack an obstacle in any number of ways. Sometimes there’s only one way, such as finding a perennially lonely female Goomba a mate by stacking other Goombas to the sky, and other times you’ll find that the abilities available to you simply facilitate Mario’s conquests. It’ll offer you the chance to engage in remote control car races and get into an aquatic dogfight with a giant octopus and and and.
If you can’t tell, the ways they use this stable of classic and new characters is tremendous. It’s part of that wonderment and need to explore: what does this thing do? Hmm, that doesn’t solve this problem, so what problem does it solve? Oh no way, it does that?! This game is that sort of surprise at a nearly nonstop clip for 30 solid hours.
It works because every single thing that happens is exactly what should happen. Not only in terms of those takeovers like how Cheep Cheeps adorably and frantically wiggle back and forth as you swim or how Bullet Bills drift across turns, but Mario himself moves like you’ve always wanted him to move. His momentum has increased across slopes and speed-generating moves, and his repertoire is a terrific aggregate of games past. The long jump, dolphin dive, side somersault, backflip, roll are all back. Hell, Mario even handstands on the top of poles.
The interesting concession is that the hat throw (which has already created an incredible question of will it break the game for speedrunners) feels a bit overly precise, a problem that is overcome with the motion controls. And yeah, even when you turn off motion controls in the settings, there are still motion controls. You can shake your controller, for instance, when you throw your hat to turn it into a homing attack. For some people, the motion controls are fine or even preferable. For many, though, it’s going to be a nuisance.
Not a major one, but a nuisance nonetheless. The same goes for some of the boss battles, most notably against the members of the Broodals. Their patterns are simple (and bow heavily to the Nintendo Rule of Threes), and as you fight them multiple times, their patterns don’t change substantially. It becomes a tad monotonous, but for every rote Broodals fight, you are treated to something truly delectable.
They’ll usually depend on using Cappy to inhabit a specific creature for the boss battle. The aforementioned aquatic dogfight in the tropical Bubblaine is an absolute highlight, using Gushens to jet through the air to dodge projectiles and chase your target. There’s another in a garden where you’re pretty much fighting a flowery UFO with an ambulatory onion. Oh, and the tank battle against the giant robot centipede? Yeah, that’s dope, too.
And let’s not forget the 8-bit 2D sections. There’s plenty of them, sequence of pure side-scrolling action, and they’re lovingly crafted into refreshing and amusingly referential bits of jumping. Gravity might invert in one part like VVVVVV and another will blend the world outside the mural with the world inside the wall. The first time you turn a corner or see a Bullet Bill transition into the third dimension will absolutely blow your goddamn mind. (It culminates in the Metro Kingdom with, well, let’s just say the best thing you’ll see all year.)
Plus, for all these huge sweeping accomplishments, the game also celebrates the smaller moments as well. Kingdom-specific birds will come to land on Mario’s nose when he enters his sleepy idle animation, and throwback hand gestures will crop up when he collects Power Moons. Playing catch with a dapper little Shiba Inu in the desert is a fun little sojourn, as is swapping outfits to see how they are rendered in the 8-bit realm.
It’s a visually stunning game that drips with style and stuffed with aural treats as you hear the varying pitter patter of everyone’s little feet. There’s really no detail left unconsidered. If you’ve wondered if something does another thing, fret not: someone making the game has also wondered the same. Even if the answer is just a bunch of invisible coins on a ledge you thought was impossible to get to, it’s a satisfying vindication.
Yes, you can quibble with certain design decisions to death just as you can with any game, but Super Mario Odyssey is one of the most complete and fully considered games ever made. It’s beautiful and charming and accessible and engaging and appropriately challenging. It is, in a word, a triumph.
+ Creative in the ways it uses your expectations of a Mario game
+ Endlessly charming and genuinely funny at times
+ Boss battles are fantastic ways to explore the boundaries of the mechanics
+ Seriously gorgeous
Final Score: 10 out of 10
Game Review: Super Mario Odyssey
Release: October 27, 2017
Genre: Third-person platformer
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Players: Single-player, two-player co-op